FEEDUARY Events Illuminate the Impact of Halton Food for Thought On Student Nutrition and Learning

On February 23, Halton Food for Thought (HFFT) held two events celebrating “FEEDUARY.”

This annual program “shine[s] a spotlight on our Student Nutrition Programs and their importance in Fuelling the Future of our Halton students,” according to the Food for Thought website.

Shaz Wall, the Burlington community development manager for HFFT, explained it in more detail.

“We welcome people into the schools to observe the types of food, as well as to see how students are engaging with the programs,” Wall said. “It's also a great time for us to thank our volunteers who are coming out and running the day-to-day functions of that program in each school.”

HFFT has 49 schools running at least one of their programs in Burlington and 149 schools in all of Halton.

During FEEDUARY, they welcome various guests to schools running one of their programs, to put together bins of food, and distribute them to classrooms.

Among the guests at the first event, held at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Elementary School, were MP for Oakville North-Burlington Pam Damoff, Milton MP Adam van Koeverden, there on behalf of Burlington MP Karina Gould, who is currently on maternity leave, and Burlington’s Mayor Marianne Meed Ward.

Brad Park, president and CEO of United Way Halton and Hamilton was also in attendance. Park said the United Way is a major funder of the program.

Wall spoke about what she hoped the guests would gain from the event.

“I'm excited that our decision-makers in our community are going to be able to see the grassroots experience of a program, how the parents are involved, how they're contributing in their school communities, and to see how they're engaging and building up their students while they're here,” she said.

Damoff explained what she likes about the program.

“They do it in a way that doesn't stigmatize kids who are coming to school hungry, and we know that when children have had food in their stomach, they learn better,” Damoff said.

“Sometimes the families are busy before they come to school, sometimes it's a matter of not having food in the home,” she continued.

Wall echoed Damoff’s sentiment about the importance of the program.

“When we talk to our teachers and our administrators in the schools, they have shared that the food that's being accessed is beneficial to the students,” Wall said. “Whether they're having a slow day, and they just need a pick me up, or if they've forgotten to bring their lunch, but also to help them focus when they're in class. So allowing them to not worry about, ‘Do I have enough in my lunch,’ but just really engage in the curriculum and be an active participant of the classroom.”

Meed Ward spoke about the significance of the nutritional value of the food as well.

“It's also healthy snacks, and that's really important to get kids early to learn about snacks being healthy,” Meed Ward said.

“There's apples, granola bars, Goldfish crackers, so they don't always grab for candy or high sugar, high-fat type foods,” she continued. “Getting used to filling themselves up with snacks that are actually good for them is also a good thing.”

Koeverden mentioned how food programs like Food for Thought are relevant when it comes to helping shape a national school food policy, which parliament is working on right now.

The second event was held later in the afternoon on February 23, at St. Nicholas Catholic Elementary School in Oakville and was attended by MPP for Oakville Stephen Crawford and MPP for Oakville North-Burlington Effie Triantafilopoulos.

The two provincial politicians were there to announce a new grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) that will provide $76,400 in funding to HFFT.

Crawford spoke about what the grant provides to the organization.

“I think it gives them a lot of support to be able to continue on as an organization because it's entirely volunteer-led and the funding is coming from our Resilient Communities grant fund,” Crawford. “So it's critically important to the success of the organization, but that's [only] part of it.”

“The other part, of course, is the volunteers,” he continued. “And we can't forget them because they play a critical role in delivering the food. If we didn't have them, we couldn't do this program.”

Crawford also mentioned that grants of this type are all the more important after the hit that non-profit organizations took during COVID.

Triantafilopoulos talked about what specific areas the grant will help HFFT with.

“This grant goes specifically into assisting with fundraising [and] assisting with trying to get through the after-effects or the impacts of COVID-19,” she said. “So being able to create a situation where they're more sustainable and more resilient.”

According to HFFT’s website, 87% of kids in Halton have been fed with food from the program and over two million meals and snacks have been served each school year.

Jack Brittle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Burlington Local-News.ca